Jessie Bazan | April 6, 2016
James Martin, SJ, delivers another great spiritual guide in his newest book, Seven Last Words: An Invitation to a Deeper Friendship with Jesus. The New York Times best-selling author of The Abbey, Jesus: The Pilgrimage and The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything is well-known for his engaging, relatable writing.
Martin’s most recent book is no exception. Seven Last Words is an edited compilation of reflections Martin offered on Good Friday 2015 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He explains in the book’s introduction that preaching the “Seven Last Words” is a long-standing Good Friday ritual in which people from the community are invited to preach about Jesus’s final statements from the cross. Martin’s reflections focus on how Jesus’s sufferings helped him understand our human hearts. Jesus gets it. He lived it.
It can be easy to think of Christ as a wholly-distant “other.” Martin reminds us the Son of God suffered just like you and I. Christ relates to us at the deepest human level. Throughout the book, Martin’s stories and examples intertwine Christ’s reality with the realities of people today. In true Jesuit form, he also includes many nuggets of wisdom from St. Ignatius of Loyola.
I found the meditation entitled “Jesus Understands Physical Pain” to be Martin’s most powerful — and perhaps most relatable — reflection. Martin begins his preaching on Jesus’s statement, “I am thirsty” (John 19) with a simple declaration of his own: “Jesus had a body.” Martin notes it can be easy to focus just on Jesus’s divinity (or conversely, just Jesus’s humanity) and lose sight of the amazing reality that the Son of God was both divine and human. And in his humanness, Jesus felt pain. Jesus threw up, Martin bluntly writes. He became hungry and thirsty. Imagine the agony of having nails gouged into your wrists. Jesus felt that. Martin uses this example to draw the reader’s attention to people around the world who experience thirst. Christ’s body thirsted, as do the bodies of people without access to clean drinking water. Martin also reminds us God empathizes with us in all our physical ailments. Jesus intimately understands the pain of a broken leg or cancer or any other hurt because he felt pain, too.
Such a startling, important revelation is one of many found in Seven Last Words. I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a quick, insightful spiritual read.
Check out Eric’s interview with Fr. James Martin, SJ, on season 1, episode 7 of In the Square.
Jessie Bazan is a graduate student at St. John’s University School of Theology in Collegeville, Minnesota and a regular contributor to U.S. Catholic.